Home Child 216

Grade 12 stu­dent Madi­son Westcott of Kingston, Ont., wrote this fic­tion­al­ized but fac­tu­ally ac­cu­rate “jour­nal” from the point of view of her great-great­grand­mother, Mar­garet Jane Con­lon, who trav­elled from Scot­land to Canada as a home child in 1913. Madis

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A tal­ented high-school stu­dent writes a fic­tion­al­ized “jour­nal” of her great-great-grand­mother’s true story of trav­el­ling from Scot­land to Canada as a home child in 1913.

De­cem­ber 24, 1909

Christ­mas at the poor­house isn’t any fun. We were brought here be­cause the courts say my mum is a gypsy, but I say she’s just a reg­u­lar mum. My two younger sis­ters, Gra­cie and Mary, have been cry­ing for Pa a lot. He went to find work, but we haven’t seen him for months. Mum tried to pro­vide for us as a bas­ket ped­dler but still couldn’t make ends meet. My older brother and sis­ters, Winifred, El­iz­a­beth, Ann, and Frank, are all try­ing to find work. I don’t ex­pect much for Christ­mas, but if I did have one wish, it’s for my pa to come home.

Jan­uary 8, 1910

To­day is my birth­day. I’m now 11 years old. My mum can’t get me any­thing; I don’t mind all too much. We’re still in the poor­house. I didn’t get my Christ­mas wish for my pa to come home. I hope he re­mem­bers that my birth­day’s to­day. I heard them ac­cus­ing my dad of be­ing an “ex­ceed­ingly bad char­ac­ter.” I don’t know what that means, but I miss him bunches, and as for my mum, they say she’s not much bet­ter. Though she does right well at be­ing my mum. I heard the big­ger peo­ple whis­per­ing about me and my lit­tle sis­ters be­ing sent to a place called a Quar­ri­ers Home. They say a poor­house is no place for chil­dren, and that other ar­range­ments will have to be made. I don’t know what that is ei­ther. I just hope if they do, that Pa will know where to find us.

March 11, 1910

I didn’t want to leave, but here we are. This is my first night in the Quar­ri­ers Home. It’s called Bridge-of-weir, in Glas­gow. They put me and my sis­ters in cot­tage num­ber 16, and I’m child num­ber 216. The cot­tage sounded like a nice place to stay, but once I got here, I was dis­ap­pointed. I don’t like be­ing here with­out my mum. I miss her and Pa, who I haven’t seen in so long. This place is a lit­tle bet­ter than the poor­house though, but not by much with­out my fam­ily with me. Glas­gow is the far­thest I’ve trav­elled from my home­town of La­nark, where I was born. There are lots of other chil­dren here, some of them have been cry­ing for days be­cause they miss their mums, too. Some of them are happy, say­ing that liv­ing here is bet­ter than the streets. I’m not sure how I feel yet, all I know is that I miss my fam­ily, but at least I have my lit­tle sis­ters to take care of.

June 12, 1911

The school year’s al­most done. I haven’t been able to go to school for quite some time but here at the Quar­ries, I can catch up quite eas­ily. Miss Hat­tie says I have a tal­ent for writ­ing, de­spite miss­ing so much school. Gra­cie and Mary have taken to school too, and made a few friends of their own. I’ve made a few friends, too. They gave us things like pen­cils, books and an ex­tra frock. I guess another good thing about be­ing here is when I’ve grown out of my old shoes, I’m able to get a new pair.

April 7, 1912

Spring is my favourite time of year be­cause ev­ery­thing seems so fresh and new, and I’ve been hear­ing we’ll have a fresh new start in Canada. Some of my friends are ex­cited about this, but I’m still won­der­ing when my ma and pa are com­ing to find us. What if we get all the way to Canada and they can’t find us? Gra­cie and Mary don’t have the same wor­ries be­cause they don’t have mem­o­ries like I do. I won­der if they would even re­mem­ber what Ma and Pa look like. I have my ma’s dark hair and Gra­cie and Mary have Pa’s blue eyes. They tell us that life is bet­ter in Canada and that there are many peo­ple look­ing for chil­dren. I won­der if my fam­ily is look­ing for us?

April 24, 1913

We have one month to go be­fore we set sail on the Grampian. I’ve never been on a ship be­fore. As much as I don’t want to leave, I’m very ex­cited to see the ocean. We got a bunch of new things. I’ve never had this many new things be­fore. Here’s a list of what I got: a copy of the Pil­grim’s Progress book, a new Bible, new writ­ing ma­te­ri­als, a smock, a Lind­say frock be­cause it’s much colder in Canada, a pet­ti­coat, shoes, hand­ker­chief, sew­ing kit, tin of pins, thread and bob­bins, but my most favourite new thing is a pack­age of rib­bons. I was never able to have rib­bons be­fore.

May 23, 1913

We leave tomorrow. In prepa­ra­tion of leav­ing Scot­land, all 89 of us girls were brought to­gether to sing “Shall We Gather at the River.” While we were singing, Miss Hat­tie and some of the other teach­ers were cry­ing; they’ve be­come our fam­ily over the last three years. Only a few chap­er­ones, in­clud­ing grumpy Mr. Find­ley, are com­ing on the voy­age with us. All us girls were given strict in­struc­tions not to speak to any pas­sen­gers, and to be as un­ob­tru­sive as pos­si­ble. I’ll find that hard to do.

June 2, 1913

I’ve ar­rived in Canada safely with my sis­ters. As we left the ship, our chap­er­ons called out, “Don’t for­get the homes of Scot­land.” We’ve landed in a place called Que­bec City. I’m amused at how many peo­ple speak French. I’ve never heard the lan­guage spo­ken so much be­fore. We’re catch­ing the train to a city called Brockville, Ont., and a place there called Fair­knowe Home, where I will be study­ing for one more year. My sis­ters are very for­tu­nate, a child­less shoe­maker and his wife have spo­ken for them, and be­cause I am 14, I will start im­me­di­ately in ser­vice af­ter my fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tions. This is the first time in a long time where I have some idea about my fu­ture, start­ing over in this coun­try called Canada. This is my chance to make my own way.

Mar­garet and her two younger sis­ters, Gra­cie and Mary, were among this group of girls sent to Canada.

Photo of Mar­garet, who trag­i­cally died at 25.

A print of the Grampian.

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